Shred autumn leaves for compost piles and garden beds

mowing leaves
An easy way to shred leaves is to run over them with a mulching lawn mower with a collecting bag. (Photo from iStockphoto.com)
Last Updated: 
November 17, 2011

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Leaves, leaves everywhere, and what can you do with them all? Most make a great addition to the compost pile because they are nitrogen-poor but rich in minerals. But other leaves, including oak, walnut and laurel, are especially slow to break down.

A warning: Oak and walnut leaves contain materials that affect the growth of several other plants. Use these leaves as mulches or add small amounts to the compost pile over the winter.        

The solution to too many leaves is fairly simple. Fallen leaves will break down much more quickly if you chop them into tinier pieces, said Ross Penhallegon, horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service.

An easy way to shred leaves into smaller pieces, even if you don’t have a chipper-shredder, is to run over them with a mulching lawn mower with a collecting bag. Or shred them with the mower and rake them.

If you have huge trees and a lot of leaves, store shredded leaves in garbage bags or cans. Shredded leaves have many uses in the yard and garden.

"Layer shredded leaves into your compost pile to add air and a carbon source to the pile. This is especially handy in the winter, as compost tends to get matted down and suffers from a shortage of bulk brown materials," Penhallegon said.

Place shredded leaves in the flowerbeds as mulch. They are a great source of organic matter for the soil and helps protect flower bulbs and perennials from hard winter freezes.

Don’t wait too long. It's easier to rake, shred or grind dry leaves than sodden matted ones.

Be sure to cover the compost pile to keep it from becoming too soggy.

Author: Judy Scott